The infield for the Chicago White Sox has become extremely crowded. While the Sox lack depth in the outfield and on the mound, the infield has a whole cast of characters who could make an impact at the major league level.
Even before GM Rick Hahn took over the position two offseasons ago, the Sox were building the core of their team around two guys up the middle. In 2008, then-GM Kenny Williams signed crafty Cuban shortstop Alexei Ramirez and drafted phenom Gordon Beckham.
The team transitioned Beckham, a natural shortstop, to a different position due to the logjam at short. After struggling at third base because of his arm strength, Beckham was moved over to second base in 2010. Ever since then, he has transformed into a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman but has struggled at the plate. Whether it be for the latter reason or another, the organization started to infuse infielders into their system in bulk.
Taking a glimpse at the White Sox organization, one could list Beckham, Ramirez, Conor Gillaspie, Marcus Semien, Leury Garcia, recently promoted triple-A speedster Micah Johnson, Matt Davidson and Carlos Sanchez as guys who could play second, short or third. That’s eight players fighting for three spots with the big club.
In regards to second base, this has to be Beckham’s last chance to prove himself. If he does not become a consistent hitter who is batting around .270, which was expected of him when he was drafted, it is time to trade him. Beckham is arbitration eligible again this offseason and is a free agent after 2015. His salary increase will not be that different from the $4.18 million he makes this season. With a relatively low price tag, the Sox could trade him to a team in desperate need of a second baseman (Toronto Blue Jays or New York Yankees) and acquire some young pitching in return.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez is off to a hot start in 2014, hitting .327 with an OBP of .357. Under team control until after the 2016 season, there have been rumblings that the Sox might trade the 32-year-old in order to receive a hefty package of prospects in return. With the Sox lacking a true offensive presence at short at the moment, the team should keep Ramirez, even if his stock has never been higher.
Third base has been the White Sox weakness ever since Joe Crede‘s back prematurely gave out on him. Currently Gillaspie is holding down the fort with his .313 average and .363 OBP. Gillaspie deserves to stay at third until Davidson, who is hitting .179 in the minors, becomes a consistent hitter.
Garcia has proven that he is no more than a utility infielder who could be a dangerous late inning pinch runner. Semien has showed flashes of versatility, but has struggled at the plate, leading the American League in strikeouts with 49. While he is in the top of the league in pitches seen in an at-bat, working the count is not all that beneficial if one strikes out. That being said, Semien has shown enough positives to still remain in the discussion.
Johnson was just promoted to AAA this week and has been tearing up AA with his bat. A pest on the base paths, Johnson’s only issue he has to address is his defense. With his positional future up in the air, as well as the need for him to show more consistency at the plate, Johnson should remain in the minors until 2016 when the infield picture might be a little clearer.
Sanchez, who is the one least talked about of the bunch, is hitting .280 with an OBP of .374 in AAA. He is the best defensively out of anyone, even the established Beckham. Projected to be a Gold Glove winner when he reaches the majors, Sanchez’s range screams Omar Vizquel-esque. Unlike Johnson, he is on the doorstep of the majors and should be brought up when rosters expand to 40 in September.
With aging guys in the middle of the infield and a new regime thirsting to thrust youngsters into major league roles, players who made up the old guard are being pushed aside. While the infield situation continues to be foggy for the Sox, having too many options is better than not having enough.